In this year’s budget, the city is trying to simultaneously kill off two programs that help welfare recipients on the verge of eviction. The double deathblow would cost the city $6 million in federal and state funds. It would also be a serious hit to Legal Aid and Legal Services, and could spell catastrophe for some small tenant aid groups.
The mayor’s new budget eliminates Emergency Assistance for Families, a federally sponsored eviction-prevention program run in New York by the city Human Resources Administration. It also would destroy a similar housing department program that provides the same services for people the feds don’t deem eligible. Through these two programs, seven nonprofit contractors assist about 10,000 families each year, mostly helping to fill out Jiggetts applications that get extra rent cash for welfare families.
Each year since 1990, councilmembers have successfully salvaged the Housing Preservation and Development program, for which the city foots the entire $2 million bill. But this is the first time a mayor is seeking to axe the $2.9 million HRA effort, which costs the city just $1 for every $3 that federal and state governments kick in.
“The city will forfeit this money, and in the end will have to spend millions in added shelter costs, not to mention the human cost children and families will suffer,” says Steven Banks, coordinating attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project. “This will result in an explosion of homelessness.” Legal Aid is the largest contractor in the programs, which together account for about a quarter of its civil legal services budget.
The attack on the HRA-funded program comes on top of a policy of malign neglect that has made the last year harrowing for its contractors. Reimbursement rules have become more strict, as the city refused to pay for welfare recipients who run afoul of work requirements. And although they are supposed to be reimbursed on a monthly schedule–$1,080 for each client served–four of the nonprofits, including Legal Aid and Legal Services, haven’t seen a penny since August. The other three received October’s check at the end of February.
Determined to continue providing help, one small agency, Eviction Intervention in Manhattan and the Bronx, has been borrowing against other sources of money to keep the program going. But Executive Director Karen Ingenthron says that the arrangement can’t go on much longer: Emergency Assistance for Families makes up just over half of its budget.
Now, with current funding delayed and future support in jeopardy, Ingenthron worries that a budget cut could devastate her organization. “I feel the floor opening out from under me,” she says.